Without fail, every generation of parents finds a scapegoat for the state of kids. If it’s not violent video games, it’s rock music, or dancing the waltz, or, chess, or reading novels. This decade, looks like it’s going to be smartphones!
That’s where one Denver-based father wants to take it. Tim Farnum founded a non-profit organization in Colorado called Parents Against Underage Smartphones, and he’s taken it upon himself to draft legislation that would outlaw the sale of internet-connected smartphones to minors under 13 years of age — a law that would extend to others buying smartphones for minors. Retailers found guilty of not complying with the law would be warned after the first offense and fined $500 after the second, with the fine doubling for each offense after that. The law would not cover phones that lack internet access but have GPS and calling, which I’m pretty sure is almost none of them in 2017 (whether or not Farnum is aware that flip phones by and large still have internet access is unclear). Farnum would need 100,000 signatures backing his initiative to get it on the ballot during the 2018 elections.
Per a Washington Post report, Farnum decided to do this because he got smartphones for his 11- and 13-year old sons, who became more withdrawn and moody as a result. Well, that or they’re becoming teenagers, but we’ll take his word for it. The grand irony at the end of the report is that Farnum himself took those phones away, saying that his sons’ behavior improved shortly after.
That supports the arguments of those against the initiative — that it’s the job of parents, not the state, to regulate their kids’ behavior. Farnum acknowledges this in the report, but believes that smartphones should be viewed along the lines of drugs, alcohol, and pornography, as something directly harmful to the development of children.
It’s a tenuous argument, and the name of the initiative itself perfectly encapsulates how nonsensical it is. Farnum has named it “Preservation of Natural Childhood,” which is almost suffocating in its arrogance. It’s ceaselessly fascinating to me how the ideal of childhood, across generations of parents, amounts to how things were when the parents were kids. It’s ridiculous! There is no natural childhood. Childhood, and adulthood, always changes with the times — a truth so self-evident, it seems banal to verbalize it.
That’s not to say that kids shouldn’t be protected from the dangers of the world. But, to equate smartphone use to drugs and alcohol, things that by their nature do bodily harm, to smartphones is ludicrous and dangerous to kids in its own way. With a measure of support from parents, a smartphone in the hands of a child can be a powerful educational tool, and it’s a vital way that kids socialize with each other. Learning to use a smartphone at a young age is going to be vital for kids to be competitive in a world and a job market that increasingly demands their use.
If you’re a parent and you disagree, that’s your prerogative. It’s an entirely other matter to think that all parents, everywhere, are incapable of introducing smartphones to their kids in a positive way. Even if it turns out that Farnum is doing this primarily to attract attention to the dangers of excessive smartphone use, going about it by introducing something that could potentially become law is a reckless way of doing it.